Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Cloud Time by Rob Coley & Dean Lockwood

This entry is here to congratulate my colleagues Rob Coley and Dean Lockwood for the publication of  their book Cloud Time: The Inception of the Future. I should have written something about it months ago, alas I have been too busy.

I have seen two reviews: one from Steven Poole in The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jul/06/nonfiction-reviews-roundup-steven-poole and one from Alexander Barker from The Oxonian Review http://www.oxonianreview.org/wp/cloud-capitalism/


Monday, 9 July 2012


A modern eye on Edvard Munch | euronews, le mag

Edvard Munch, Mass Media and Photography

There are a substantial number of blog entries that deal with painting: from the Renaissance painting to contemporary abstraction. This may seem odd to the casual viewer of a blog that is called Digital Imaging and Photography. Many of these entries are here due to the painter’s use of photographic and sometimes digital technologies or it is about the abstract nature of its piece and its influence on abstract film and digital art. Others are there simply because they deal with concepts or are part of a broader cultural movement like Romanticism or Modernism.

Detail from Edvard Munch's Self-Portrait "A la Marat" at Dr Jacobson's Clinic in Copenhagen (1908-1909)

The inclusion of Munch here has been prompted by the exhibition Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye that runs at the Tate Modern until 14 October, 2012. Edvard Munch can be seen as the heir to Van Gogh and his paintings of self-expression, the last breadths of Northern Romanticism. Van Gogh was famously described as “the hinge in which nineteenth-century Romanticism finally swung into twentieth-century Expressionism” (Hughes, 1991, p.276). Yet Munch seems forever associated with the fin-de-siècle and the symbolist counter culture that expressed their anxiety of metropolitan culture and the coming new century and horror it would and did eventually bring.  A.S. Byatt recently observed that “like Van Gogh” Munch “wanted to make passionate images of human beings and nature for a secular world  to replace the old religious images” (2012, p.16). This exhibition however, aims to make Munch seem more modern with curators Angela Lampe and Clément Chéroux pointing “out in there catalogue that three quarters of Munch’s output dates from after 1900, most particularly from between 1913-1930” (Byatt, 2012 p.16). 

Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
The Scream (after Edvard Munch) 1984

The exhibition “tries to make us see Munch as modern in several ways: his repetition and serial repainting, his interest in photography and film, his use of theatrical lighting” and according the critic Adrian Searle, Munch was “aware of the opportunities and limits afforded by these different media (Searle, 2012). Searle explains that “we always cast the art of the past in ways that always suit us. There is always new research" he reminds us, “new ways seeing” (Searle, 2012).  In the late 20th Century Munch’s art seems to return in the form of many stylistic borrowings. His angst ridden canvases were the template of much neo-expressionist art and as Searle points out, Warhol “re-worked Munch” (Searle, 2012) with his cool touch, while later artists like Peter Doig quoted him (Doig’s painting always seemed to be the product of the reimagining of an art history, where Munch travelled to Tahiti instead of Gauguin).

Artists’ use of technologies other than brushes and paint is nothing new. Renaissance artists to Vermeer and perhaps most famously Canaletto beyond used the camera obscura: those pioneers of New Media Art.  Arts relationship with the “popular” and mass culture and mass media may have a shorter history, but it is important to take it into consideration when looking at Munch with fresh eyes. It is amazing that Munch is categorized as a Post-Impressionist.  His near contemporary Seurat (Seurat was born in 1859, Munch 1863) and fellow Post-Impressionist “was not shy of taking his motifs from the wild compositions of the most popular advertising artists Jules Cheret” (Hughes. 1996).  That other  Post-Impressionist Van Gogh was 80 years ahead of Warhol, with his love of newsprint: Van Gogh “loved not only Japanese prints, whose colours was highly sophisticated, but also the crude discordant and even brutal colours of mass industrial printing, which could give his work, he said, the effect of a chromolithograph from a cheap shop” (Hughes. 1996). And what of Bonnard, who produced posters advertising French Champagne in the 1890s and of course there was Toulouse Lautrec whose depictions of Parisian nightclub life not only portrayed people as if there faces were  masks, but promoted night clubs and cabarets or James Ensor who depicted modern life as a kind demonic carnival. This cultural mix would have had a profound influence on the young Munch. 

Munch’s modernity perhaps should not be questioned; even though his use of photography as Adrian Searle has recognized is far less extensive or as apparent as say, in the work of Degas, Bonnard or Vuillard (2012). Munch’s modernist consciousness may be close to Baudelaire’s description of modern experiences where alienated souls swarm like ants in the city, “City full of dreams/Where ghosts in daylight tug the stroller’s sleeve!”  However, the explorations of alienation and his expressionist credentials have been questioned by critics. Richard Dorment argues “that Munch always had more to do with the controlled sensuality you find in a Post Impressionism or Symbolism”, while “any idea that The Sick Child represents a morbidly expressionist cry of anguish is dispelled by the very existence of the numerous replicas Munch was willing to paint to order or knew he could sell” (Dorment, 2012). Laura Cumming (2012) has suggested that the exhibition’s catalogue “may be in danger of making a postmodernist of him”. Did not the expressionist Kirchner cynically alter the dates of many of his paintings to suggest that he painted them earlier, therefore influencing the price? Artist’s like de Chirico reworked there art, as did Duchamp. What about Dali’s work in the last couple of decades of his life? Well, perhaps  Munch's repetition was the only way of exorcising trauma, but suffering does seem to sell all the same and countercultures are eventually brought to bear under the pressure of markets.

Egon Shiele, Self-Portrait, 1914

Lucas Samaras Photo Transformation c Mid-seventies

The critics do not seem that convinced by Munch’s photography.  Dorment states “that although Munch took photographs and made films these are of little aesthetic importance” and Searle sees their relationship to Munch’s art as “extremely limited”. Perhaps Munch does not have that incredible relationship with film as Edward Hopper whose imagery, influenced by theatre design and film then goes on to inform the landscape of a Hitchcock and infuse Wim Wender's vision of America in films like Hammett. Munch does adopt in his photographs theatrical poses so perhaps his photography is part of that traditional of self-portraiture associated with expressionists concern of the self.  One thinks of Egon Shiela’s self-portraits from 1914 with there ridiculous level of vanity. Perhaps they, like Munch’s work are a kind proto-performance art, a forerunner of the art that emerged in the 60s and came to dominate the nineteen seventies art scene. We may live in the age of the narcissistic self where we begin with Expressionism and then the photography of Lucas Samera or Anulf Reiner and end here in the 21st Century with Facebook, iphoto, iphone and mobile media that is producing endless examples of self-inspection, on the web, in spaces not too dissimilar from this one. The clumsy casualness and unfocused nature of some of Munch’s photography with its almost web-cam like aesthetic, shares something with so many of the artefacts produced in this age of the amateur. 

The cover shows a detail of Munch's The Sick Child

 The cover shows a detail from a lithogragh by Edvard Munch, The Death Chamber (1896).

Munch's connection with a broader modernism may be found in his involvement other media. Munch had ventured into stage design and “in 1906 he worked in Berlin with the great theatre director Max Reinhardt”, where he designed sets for Ibsen’s Ghost’s and Hedda Gabler (Byatt, AS, 2012 p.17). One may wonder how much he influenced Expressionist theatre (he may have found himself competing with Edward Gordon Craig). Munch is now irrevocably linked to both Strindberg and Ibsen, not least because of Penguin Classics designer, Germano Facetti, who before Warhol copied Munch and used his pictures for the covers of Ibsen’s Ghosts and Other Plays and Strinberg’s Three Plays in the nineteen sixties.

Why a Munch exhibition now? Well there is  the rise of 'Nordic noir' which, like Munch's art, explores Scandinavia's dark soul. One thinks imediately of the TV series, The Killing, which has proved immensely poular in the UK, so may explain why London has hosted these paintings.


Byatt, AS, (2012), "The mean  reds" The Guardian, Review, 23 June, 2012 pp. 16-17.

Cumming, Laura,  (2012), "Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye- review", The Observer, Sunday 1 July, 2012

Dorment Richard, (2012), "Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye, Tate Modern, review", The Telegraph  Monday 25 June 2012

Hughes, Robert (1991) Shock of the New, London: Thames and Hudson

Hughes, Robert (1996) The Myths of High and Low, International Society of the Performing Arts, December 15, 1996.

Searle, Adrian, (2012), "Edvard Munch: a head for horror", The Guardian Monday 25 June 2012